Mark Willen

About Mark Willen

Mark Willen’s Hawke’s Point, a literary novel with a measure of suspense and mystery, was released by Pen-L Publishing in 2014. His short stories have appeared in Corner Club Press, The Rusty Nail. and The Boiler Review. Mark is currently working on his second novel, a thriller set in a fictional town in central Maryland. Mark also writes a blog on practical, everyday ethics, Talking Ethics.com.

 

Articles contributed by this author
Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

2/7/2017 – Can Books Still Change the World?

So, I’ve been reading Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. I like to keep up with the latest fads and, as President Trump pointed out recently, Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.”

Douglass is probably the most famous abolitionist of all time, and his work was widely recognized in the years before, during, and long after the Civil War, including by President Abraham Lincoln, whose response to Douglass’s criticism was to invite him to the White House to talk about their differences. Over time they developed a strong friendship and at least a partial reconciliation of their views. Lincoln listened, changed, and came to appreciate Douglass, and the feeling was mutual. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

11/7/16 — Ten Great American Political Novels for Trying Times

As the campaign season draws to a close, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. But what about fiction with a strong political theme? Can it help us understand and make sense of the world around us? You bet it can, and I’ve got just the list to prove it.

Whether you’re fed up with politics and need an escape or you just can’t get enough of it, here are ten American political novels worth considering before Inauguration Day. The choices are mine, and I’ll warn you that I’ve left out a few that might seem particularly partisan (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, for example), as well as the many great foreign political classics (1984, The Trial, War and Peace, to name just a few). Most have been made into movies, but trust me, the books are better. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

9/7/2016 — Open Magda Szabó’s Door and You Won’t Regret It

productimage-picture-the-door-447

So you devoured Elene Ferrante’s tetralogy and now you’re wondering what other international gems are out there—books so good you can’t believe you never heard of them. Well, look no further than Magda Szabó’s The Door. If you like Ferrante, I guarantee you’ll like Szabó.

Magda Szabó, who died in 2007 at age 90, was one of Hungary’s most important 20th century writers, widely read and admired at home but only recently getting the love and attention she deserves worldwide. The Door was published in 1987 but not translated into English until 2005, when it appeared in Britain. Last year, the New York Review Books classics offered it up to American audiences in a new, widely praised translation by Len Rix. We should all be thankful. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

7/7/2016 — A Sense of Place: What We Can Learn From Richard Russo

richard russoWhen I was in graduate school and working on an early version of my first novel, Hawke’s Point, my thesis advisor asked me if I’d read Richard Russo. I hadn’t, but when he said my writing reminded him of Russo’s, I rushed out to get everything I could lay my hands on. The advisor’s comment was reinforced when a reviewer of Hawke’s Point also cited a similarity to Russo. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

5/7/16 — Novelists Still Intrigued by World War II

What is it about war that produces such compelling literature? And what is it about World War II, in particular, that continues to capture us like none other?

As long as there has been war—and that’s since the beginning of time—storytellers have been trying to capture the experience, first to preserve it for history (think epics like Homer’s Iliad) and then to try to make sense of it. They have tried to explore it as tragedy (Shakespeare’s Henry V), as philosophy (Tolstoy’s War and Peace), through psychology (Pat Barker’s Resurrection), as memoir (My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell) and even as comedy (Joseph Heller’s Catch 22). But whatever the approach the aim has been the same: to describe what can’t be described, to find humanity in the midst of cruelty, to understand what can’t be understood. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

Carolyn_headshot4/29/16 – Carolyn Marie Wilkins Is Our May 1 Guest Blogger

Carolyn Marie Wilkins is the author of Melody for Murder: A Bertie Bigelow Mystery; They Raised Me Up: A Black Single Mother and the Women Who Inspired Her; Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success; and Tips For Singers: Performing, Auditioning, Rehearsing.

Wilkins, a Professor of Ensembles at Berklee College of Music, is also an accomplished jazz pianist, composer and vocalist. Her performance experience includes radio and television appearances with her group SpiritJazz, a concert tour of South America as a Jazz Ambassador for the US State Department, performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony as a percussionist under Andre Previn, and shows featuring Melba Moore, Nancy Wilson and the Fifth Dimension. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, where Melody for Murder is set, she now lives in Cambridge, MA.

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

3/7/2016   What makes a good book series?  And why do readers love them?

Check the best seller list on any given week and you’re bound to find lots of familiar authors writing about familiar characters. The heroes of mysteries and thrillers often lead the pack (Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, Lucas Davenport), but series characters also dominate in fantasy and even  appear in literary fiction (John Updike’s brilliant Rabbit series). That’s no surprise. Picking a book to read can be difficult and sometimes it’s easier (and safer) to spend a few hours with a character you know in the hands of an author you trust. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

Johnston21/7/16 – Review of Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston

Reading Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This brought me back to 2003, when kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart was released after eight months in captivity. I was teaching a course in journalism ethics and I asked my students to assess the media coverage, which included 24/7 speculation about why Smart hadn’t escaped earlier and what horrors she’d been subjected to. That led to a vigorous debate over the conflict between the right to privacy and the public’s right to know. I argued that in this case there was no right to know, only prurient interest and morbid curiosity. Not everyone agreed (and certainly not cable news). If only Anthony’s novel had been available then, it would have been assigned reading. It’s the perfect answer to media callousness. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

12/7/2015 — Reading and Appreciating Paul Auster

Auster biggerI’ve become a big fan of the American writer Paul Auster—and not just because his first novella, City of Glass, was rejected by seventeen publishers before finding a home  and launching a prolific, thirty-year literary career (and yes, that means I’m a bit late in joining his fan club). I read the New York Trilogy (which includes City of Glass) last year and loved it, but it was only last month that circumstances led to me to pick up another Auster novel, Invisible (2009), which I found even more fascinating. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

11/7/15 – VETERANS DAY READING: 11 GREAT WAR NOVELS FOR 11/11

There are many ways to honor the men and women who put on a uniform and risk it all for the nations that send them into war in the name of duty and patriotism. One obvious way is to put their stories in writing—fiction or nonfiction—so that others can read and remember the sacrifices they made. Among literature’s many intrinsic values is its ability to give readers a sense of what other people experience, to help us understand, empathize, and learn from the thing that others have done.

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Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

10/7/15 — Kids Write the Darndest Things

As a writer I love to read—first, for the joy of devouring a good book and, second, because as a writer I always learn something I can use. And as an aging baby boomer, I love to watch and try to mentor the youngest generation as it finds its footing in the world. That’s why I look forward each week to the 90 minutes I spend leading a teen writing club. It combines the best of both my worlds, and invariably I learn a lot—about life and about writing. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

Kelly J9/29/15 – Preview of October Guest Blogger Kelly Ann Jacobson

In today’s world of publishing, genre can be crucial. Readers use it to select new books and publishers use it to decide how to market and pitch new fiction. But what happens when a work of fiction crosses over? Of when it’s not easy to decide whether a novel is best described as, say, a romance or women’s fiction? That’s the topic that guest blogger Kelly Ann Jacobson will explore on Oct 1. Kelly is a fiction writer, poet, and lyricist who lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She received her MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University and is an Adjunct Professor of English. Kelly is the author of the novels Cairo in White and The Troublemakers, as well as several other books of poetry and prose. For a complete list of her works, click here.

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

Joyce39/7/15 – Rachel Joyce, Harold Fry and Queenie Hennessey

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of sequels, and even a few prequels, because I’m working on a sequel of my own. I’ve also been reading a lot of books with older protagonists because my main character is in his seventies. So it was no surprise that I picked up Rachel Joyce’s The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, a follow-on to her enchanting best seller of 2012, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The principal characters are the same and the new novel is in many ways another chapter of the story, but it is neither a prequel nor a sequel. It’s an “equel.” (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

8/7/15 — Love Those Reading Lists!

Some of my favorite reading comes from lists. With enticing names like “Best,” “Great,” or even “Chosen,” they promise new discoveries and hours of entertainment. I know not everyone feels this way—Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada criticizes summer reading lists as stress inducers—but to me, reading lists actually remove the stress. Someone else has done the hard work of getting the goodies together, and I get to pick and choose what I want and ignore the rest. (I’ve even offered a few lists of my own in this space.) (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

Layout 17/7/15 – Elena Ferrante: Italy’s Most Important Contemporary Writer

I wish I could introduce you to Elena Ferrante, but I can’t. The best I can do is make a stab at introducing you to her work. To some extent, of course, that is the case with all authors, although some writers appear so often in the media, we can be lulled into thinking we really do know them.

That is not a danger with Elena Ferrante. It’s not just that Ferrante is a pen name or that the author is reclusive. It is that she has, from the start, insisted her identity remain a mystery. When her first novel, Troubling Love, came out in 1991, she told her publisher that writing it was enough. There would be no signings, no readings, no appearances at conferences. Should it win a prize, she wouldn’t even attend the ceremony. Her letter to her published explained:  “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.” (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

Caribbean Beach06/07/15 — A DIFFERENT KIND OF SUMMER READING LIST

When I was growing up, a summer reading list was big and heavy; heavy in the sense that it included those weighty tomes that you didn’t have time for during the rest of year—War and Peace, Ulysses, the Illiad. Gradually the summer list turned to beach reading, which was the exact opposite—easy books that you could read and enjoy without much thought. They provided an escape and a way to spend hours lying in the sun getting skin cancer without exerting too much effort. That seemed to lead to a burst in escapist literature of many genres: the kind of book you enjoyed but forgot as soon as you put it down. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

5/7/15 – Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Norris coverSome of my best friends are copy editors.  No, really. After decades working as a journalist, and now as a novelist, I know how important copy editors can be, how often they save writers from embarrassing errors, and how underappreciated (and underpaid) they are. I’m also aware of the stereotype that suggests copy editors are obsessed, persnickety, humorless, and mean. Like most stereotypes, there’s some truth to it…but not that much.

Enter Mary Norris, the long time page OK’er at The New Yorker, and her new memoir, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. The book is actually a modified memoir—one part life story, one part inside look at the magazine, and two parts lessons on the rules of grammar and why they make sense (but sometimes don’t). Since publication last month, the book has received rave reviews, perhaps because a lot of copy editors, present and past, were selected by their publications to review it.

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Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

4/7/2015   GETTING A GOOD START: WHY A NOVEL’S FIRST CHAPTER IS CRUCIAL

So you’re browsing the bargain table at your favorite bookstore, the latest recommendations from Amazon, or maybe perusing your local library’s “new fiction” shelf. A cover appeals to you, you read the blurb on the back, and you open it to taste the first sentences. Within seconds, you make a decision: To read or not to read. The book goes back on the shelf or you decide to take it home with you. It’s a kind of one-way speed dating where first impressions mean everything.

(Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

3/7/2015 — BOOK REVIEW: MIRIAM TOWES’ ALL MY PUNY SORROWS

ToewsMiriam Toews has managed to do the seemingly impossible: Write a novel about depression and suicide that is funny, loving, witty, heartbreaking, clever, and insightful, all while contributing to the public debate over an individual’s right to die with dignity. Toews has long been a best-selling, award-winning author in her native Canada, but readers south of the border have been slow to discover her. All My Puny Sorrows, her sixth and arguably best novel, should change that. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

danticat2/7/15 — REVIEW: EDWIDGE DANTICAT’S CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT

I spent a few days in Haiti last week without leaving home. My tour guide was Edwidge Danticat, and the mode of transportation was her magnificent novel, Claire of the Sea Light, which brought Haiti’s sights, sounds, smells to my senses, while introducing me to the people and their incredible courage, perseverance and hope. It was a remarkable journey, one I won’t forget for quite a while.

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Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

1/07/15 — SUSPENDING DISBELIEF: A TRICKY ROAD FOR READERS AND WRITERS

Thaw2I was watching one of the earlier Inspector Morse mysteries, on PBS the other night, thoroughly enjoying John Thaw’s rendition of a crotchety, alcoholic Morse, when quite suddenly I turned away in disgust. Amidst a complicated series of seemingly unexplainable events, Morse abruptly announced that the murdered drug dealer wasn’t the murdered drug dealer but a doppelgänger who in fact had been killed by the drug dealer. Never mind that Morse had never met either the real victim or his double or the absence of any clues that might have led him to his conclusion. It was the worst kind of deus ex machina, and it totally destroyed the experience for me. And unfortunately that’s been happening to me a lot, both in films and in books. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

12/7/14 — REREADING JAMES JOYCE’S THE DUBLINERS

This is the time of year for reconnecting with family and friends, a time to renew bonds and remember what makes a relationship special. So, too, with good books. I often find that the holidays are the perfect time to reread the classics, those priceless novels that offer something new, no matter how many times you read them. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

11/29/14 — OUR DECEMBER 1ST GUEST BLOGGER IS ERIC D. GOODMAN

Goodman 3Writers and readers know that good dialogue is crucial to a novel’s success. It helps define characters, moves the plot along, and adds credibility to the story and setting. Bad dialogue, on the other hand, will stop a reader in his or her tracks. Guest blogger Eric D. Goodman will examine some of the secrets of good dialogue in this space on December 1. When he’s not blogging for Late Last Night Books, Eric writes about trains, wombs, and animals gone wild. He’s the author of Tracks: A Novel in Stories and Flightless Goose, a storybook for children.

 

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

11/7/14 — THE BOOK CLUB MEETING I’ll NEVER FORGET

I’ve been to a lot of book club meetings in my day, but never one quite like this, never one where the stakes were so high. This wasn’t going to be a casual conversation about books with a group of friends; this was going to be a conversation with eight strangers about a book that meant everything to me: Hawke’s Point, my debut novel published last summer. Was I nervous?  You bet. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

10/7/2014 — AN INTERVIEW WITH PEN-L PUBLISHING’S DUKE AND KIMBERLY PENNELL

Pen-L_couple_headshotChange seems to be the only constant in the world of publishing these days. In just the last few years, the big traditional publishers have consolidated, most have entered the digital competition, and some have gone to war with Amazon. We’ve seen exponential growth in ebook sales, and thousands of authors are publishing their own work.

Almost unnoticed in the turmoil has been a huge opportunity for small, independent presses. They appeal to authors who don’t want to self-publish and can’t attract the interest of the big guys. (Continue reading)